L’Chaim to CTeen Xtreme!

4 years ago Leighest 0

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Koby Lerner, San Diego, California

I never imagined that a cup of coffee would change the course of my life. One Friday afternoon last September, my mom walked into Peet’s Coffee in San Diego, and saw a young, Jewish man, standing 6’5” and wearing very long tzitzis. She approached him and started talking to him about the Jewish community in our area. They exchanged phone numbers and went their separate days. I didn’t think much of it until a few days later, when I received a friend request on Facebook from Zevi New, the man my mom had met at Peet’s! He invited me to meet him for coffee that day. That was the start of a long and amazing friendship with Zevi, and the beginning of my journey with CTeen.

I began attending Zevi’s community teen Shabbat dinner every week that he hosted with his wife Musy. It took some time, but after a couple of events, I began to realize that being Jewish was a lot more fun than I thought. The more I saw, the more I wanted to learn and experience.
After attending the CTeen NYC Shabbaton in the winter, I just knew that I had to have more of CTeen. With a little effort and help from my Bubbe, my parents agreed to send me to CTeen Xtreme.

The big day had finally arrived. I landed in Denver feeling both nervous and excited. I met 40 strangers that day who quickly became my brothers. The itinerary was incredible. As we traveled from Denver to LA we did everything from rappelling down a mountain to packing 1000 bags of food for the homeless in record time, to late night pool parties. But none of that was the highlight of the trip. The Shabbatot, bus rides, late night discussions, and being with Jewish teens 24/7 made it the “summer of a lifetime.”

The counselors were irreplaceable. They had so much energy that followed them everywhere they went. We learned true Judaism from them, and they were just as eager to learn from us. We compared their lives in yeshiva to ours in public school. At the end of our discussions, we realized that we are really more alike than we are different, and that was very eye-opening for me. I had always thought that Jewish men with black hats were serious and judgmental. I was completely wrong! In fact, I’ve never met a group of more accepting and welcoming people.

I learned so many unexpected things on my summer adventure. I now know how to spot a Jew and convince him to don tefillin. I also learned how to pray the three daily prayers of shacharis, mincha, and maariv, defend my religious beliefs, advocate for myself as a Jew. Additionally, I had the opportunity to try so many new activities, which included cave touring, mine touring, jet skiing, mountain biking 11 miles, class 4 white water rafting, and horseback riding down Bryce Canyon National Park. I recited the Shema in more places than I ever thought possible.

One of the pivotal moments of my trip was when I was no longer embarrassed to wear tzitzit and a kippah. Today, I wear them with pride, and that is thanks to CTeen. A few months ago when I started wearing them I would often tuck in my fringes and put on a hat, but now I constantly check to make sure my tzitzit are straight and not tangled and that my kippah is centered on the top of my skull.

Many people bring home snowglobes, t-shirts, and baseball caps from vacation. I bought plenty of souvenirs, but my best ones could not be bought. I came home from CTeen with a commitment to only keep kosher, which really surprised my parents considering I could have been spotted six months ago in a restaurant devouring a cheeseburger. I took on to say modeh ani and wash my hands every morning before getting out of bed. Things that I never imagined would be a part of my day to day life became really important to me. The counselors did a great job of not imposing these rituals; instead they showed us the sheer joy of performing daily mitzvot such as hand washing and laying tefillin.

One of my favorite memories from Cteen Xtreme was when we fasted on the 17th of Tammuz, to commemorate the time 2000 years ago when the walls of Jerusalem were breached. This fast was especially hard because we were at the Adventuredome, an amusement park in Las Vegas. We were not forced to fast but most of did and with each other’s support we succeeded. I learned that it is especially important to be with Jewish friends during difficult times.

Leaving my new found brothers was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but knowing that I had a mission waiting for me at home, to inspire other Jewish people, made it easier. I returned to my job at a summer day camp. While on a break one day, Zevi met me for coffee at the café. I looked past our table and noticed one of my campers wearing tzitzit and a kippah, for the first time. I raised my cup of coffee and, with a big smile looked at my mentor and said, “L’chaim”!